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Melatonin is a hormone made by a part of the brain called the pineal gland. It may help our bodies know when it’s time to go to sleep and to wake up. There are two types of melatonin that may be used in pill form: natural and synthetic (man-made). Natural melatonin is made from the pineal gland of animals. This form could be contaminated with a virus and is not recommended. The synthetic form of melatonin does not have this risk.

Melatonin is most often used to treat insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep) in individuals with autism. While it may be infrequent, some people who have taken melatonin have reported sleepiness, headache, a “heavy-head” feeling, stomach discomfort, depression or feeling hungover. Further study is needed to find out more about melatonin’s side effects, especially delayed or long-term effects.

A survey of the medical literature reveals antioxidant and anti-cytokine activity of melatonin. Cytokines are a group of proteins and peptides used in organisms as signaling compounds and are involved in a variety of immunological, inflammatory and infectious diseases. Basically, melatonin helps to protect DNA from oxidant stress. Melatonin is considered by some to be an antioxidant vitamin. It is a vitamin for those who cannot make enough of it in their own bodies, which appears to be true for a majority of individuals on the autism spectrum.


  • Waring, R., “Disordered transsulfuration in autism” Proceedings of DAN! Fall 2002 Conference, San Diego. October 26, 2002.
  • Mayo, J.C. et al., Melatonin regulation of oxidative enzyme gene expression. Cell Mol Life Sci 59 no.10 (2002) 1706-1713.
  • Mayo, J.C. et al., Protection against oxidative protein damage. Biochim Biophys acta 1620 no. 1-3 (2003) 139-150.
  • Tan, D.X. et al., Melatonin: a hormone, a tissue factor, a paracoid and an antioxidant vitamin. J Pineal Research 34 no.1 (2003) 75-78.
  • Pangborn, J. and Baker, S.M., Autism: Effective Biomedical Treatments. Section 5: p 48-49.


Autism Canada does not endorse treatments, interventions and therapies but lists them so people can make informed choice.  This site is for information purposes only and is a starting point for readers to look into options that may fit or resonate.  Remember, therapies for autism, like any condition, should be discussed with a trusted medical practitioner or certified therapist before use.

All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.

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